Predicting Tree Failure

A heavy limb or entire tree falling on power lines, cars, houses or people is a catastrophe no one wants to ever face. Determining whether or not a tree will fall can be difficult, even for a trained arborist. Fortunately, weakened trees often show some warning signs that you can learn to recognize.

Hazard Tree Management

Falling trees become a potential hazard when there is a target. A target is something of value, such as a person, building or vehicle that would be struck by a falling tree or its parts. Most states hold the property owner responsible if damage, injury or death occurs because of a defective tree. It makes sense to inspect your trees regularly and recognize which situations may cause them to break or fall.

If you have large trees in the trajectory of a target, prevention is the best course of action. Know the health history and vigor of your trees. Vigor is reflected in the amount of leaf cover, leaf size, color and overall condition of the tree. Calendar dates for visual check-ups of your tree at the start of each new season. If your tree appears less colorful and full, in comparison to others of like size, this can indicate a problem.

Here are other hazardous conditions to look out for:

Dead Branches: There is a reason Loggers call these “widowmakers”! Dead limbs are an accident waiting to happen. The slightest breeze or even small children climbing in a tree can cause dead branches to give way. If a tree has several dead or dying branches, this may be a clue that the overall health of the tree is in question. In all cases, dead branches need to be removed immediately.

Crossed or Rubbing Branches: Weak spots can occur where branches cross or rub against each other; they should be pruned right away.

Missing Bark or Deep Cracks: The area where bark is missing, gashed or indented is called a canker. Cankers and deep cracks are an indication of weakness and those spots could potentially be spots where the tree could break.

Leaning or Balance: Not every tree grows perfectly vertical. Any sudden leans however, need to be taken seriously. Leaning trees can indicate weakening of support roots and the potential for complete failure could be imminent. Look for cracked or heaving soil, especially on the opposite side of the lean and or, exposed roots around the base of the tree. Trees that lean more that 15 degrees from vertical should be removed.

Root Decay: This is often the most difficult to detect. Carefully check for mushrooms on or near the base of the tree. Fungi growing on the trunk can be a clue that the tree is rotting inside. Above ground clues to poor root conditions include: thin crowns, dwarfed, off –color leaves, and stunted growth. Also, if any trenching or construction near the tree has severed the roots; they are an open invitation for decay organisms. Damaged roots almost always affect the tree’s health and vitality, which then increases the likelihood of failure.

Trees are living organisms that are not completely predictable. Hazard trees are most definitely… unpredictable! Create a tree health program that includes an inspection from a trained arborist at a minimum of once a year. Consider several professional visits if you are unable to calendar these visual inspections yourself. Last minute emergency tree removal is monetarily costly. A fallen tree that needs to be removed from your home or car is not only monetarily expensive, but also emotionally costly. Protect yourself and your property; schedule a tree health check-up today.

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